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Stories from Q8

Stories from Q8

I'm pleased to say that another former member of staff, 'Q8', has contacted me and not only answered a few questions that I put to him, but has also has started to tell me some tales from his time on the Underground.

The first e-mail I received included the following, by way of introduction:

'As a retired LUL employee (and a lousy one at that) I had the experience of going through several grades from guard to motorman, to collector (medical) and finally foreman then medically popped off in 1985. I like to look at the old line for nostalgia's sake and I still know a few of the District guys from the old days as well.

If there's anything I can help you with regarding the days of yore from 1966 to 1985 then e-mail me with the question and I'll try to answer.'

Well, I'm never slow to take up an offer like that!  The first question I asked, as it's one that's often raised to me, was the procedure used when coupling and uncoupling were routinely undertaken during the service day. The answer not only described this, but also contained some tales too.....

As usual, I've tried to leave the content as 'untouched' as possible, adding just a few notes of explanation where I feel it's necessary.

Coupling at Parsons Green

'Now you want to know the procedure about coupling at P.G. (Parsons Green) So I will go through it on a step by step basis.

When you left Putney Bridge eastbound you obviously knew that you would be coupling up at P.G. so you came round the corner very cautiously and stopped at the post with the calling stick on it (I forget the signal number now, it's been 30 years). (It's WF37 - see here) After a wait of up to 30 seconds the calling on disc would clear and you went in series towards the platform where you could see the 2 car unit sitting waiting. You ran into the platform and stopped just short of the unit with the Coupling Crew (CC) stand either on the unit centre door or on the platform. After stopping the guard would open the doors and perform the station duties and while he was doing that the coupling crew would check the coupler alignment to see if it were straight. If not a hefty shove with a boot would straighten it. When station duties were done the guard would close the doors and give you a bell and if the CC gave you the OK you's go 1st notch forward and with a bang mechanically couple. Then you pushed the coupling switch at the top of the panel and the engines would turn and complete that part of it. Then you shut down and blow down and the guards would open the doors again.

You pick up your kit, teacan (most important part of a trainman's kit is that) and handset and leave that cab and walk forward to the cab on the two car unit and while you did that the CC would shut the cab window turn off the heater and cab light if on and lock the now middle cab doors. On reaching the leading cab you opened up and charged up and when that was done you lapped the brake handle and hollered down the train phone for the guard to pull down. I say hollered because the old style train phones were lousy things and you could even sometimes get a better result by bawling along the platform to him. Some of these bloody phones used to have MG (Motor Generator - we now call them Motor Alternators - MA) whine over them even when you were not using them and that used to drive me effing mad. If the brake test was OK you were all set and doors were closed, bell rung and away you went.

Now on some occasions Dave the CC would, as you approached and he saw the coupler were lined up right, beckon you to come straight in without station duties being done first (I have heard this called a home run) and you go straight home and couple, then do all the rest of it.  Once when I was told to do this just as I got to about 5/10 ft short of the unit I sneezed and as I did so brought the handle round to series from 1st point. 'Course being an R stock she took off and before I dropped the handle I'd given the unit such a bash that I'd knocked it past the end of the underbridge and the shunter was knocked onto his arse. Not only that but I damaged the coupler somehow and it stopped half-cocked when I pushed the couple button. Then no matter what we did we just could not get that engine to turn back again. So there we were mechanically coupled and not able to go any further. The names I got called for that would have painted the sky blue. The upshot of this was that the Wimbledon branch was shut down for 90 odd minutes while the heavy gang came down to try and put things right. Which in the end they did. Old Parrish the D.I. (Divisional Inspector - a grade that no longer exists) came down and a soon as he saw me said " Oh f--k me I might have known it was you"

Another thing about coupling was that CP stock was NEVER EVER uncoupled on the road on the D.R. If you had a 8 car P in lieu of an R they either let you run round all day as an 8 or change you over A.S.A.P. I don't know if you were aware of it but CP stock was detested by all and sundry on the DR. Drivers hated the them because of the bloody metrovick controller and the position you had to adopt while driving them. Stooped forward and pressing down hard on the handle. If you tried to lean against the wall behind you you could not get the handle round to parallel owing to the reach required. Nobody's got 3 ft arms. So the trick was to notch up to FP (Full Parallel) and then bring the handle back to halfway and THEN lean back. Shunters hated them because of the sheer bloody hassle coupling and uncoupling them. Fitters and CME (RSE) cursed them because they were very prone to air defects (compressors never stopped running on P stock.) You could go the whole line end to end and apart from standing time at check points you had B-dum-B-dum-Bdum of the sodding pump banging away the whole way. I'm bleeding sure the pumps made more heat in the winter than the car heaters did! The only good thing about P stocks was their speed. They could gallop along when you needed them too.

Finally Dave one last thing. If you had a Q stock vice an R then sometimes it WOULD be uncoupled as TT (Time Table) but it would be left untouched until the afternoon coupling time again and if the late couple up was at a different place from the morning uncouple the you were sent to the A.M. (morning) place instead. That means if you had uncoupled at P.G in the morning you would be diverted to P.G in the afternoon in this fashion.

If your P.M. (afternoon) coupling point was Ealing and the train was a Q that had uncoupled and P.G. in the A.M. you'd be sent to Putney Bridge or Wimbledon to reverse and couple at P.G. eastbound then run to Earls Court to resume own working. If you were an  Ealing coupler and were at Earls Court at the same time as 6 car Wimbledon then they'd temporarily swap the workings. You go Wimbledon vice him and he'd go Ealing vice you and both pick up TT paths at Earls Court east.

There you are Dave. I hope this has explained things for you and believe you me you guys today have no idea what FUN it was to go to work in those days.'


So, there you have it - from the Horses Mouth! And some fascinating little tales too!

The next mail I received read as follows - again with a few annotations by me!.....

'Hi ya Dave.

                 So you like anecdotes do you....well you be careful, you'll go blind.

Seriously here are some more (short) ones.

A very hot summer day and chuntering eastward on the DR with an 8 car Q stock in the evening peak. I'm an Upminster train with a Dagenham East reverser in front at Earls Court that I followed all the way to Aldgate East homes and then he put a Barking Met (now what is the Hammersmith & City) between us. So that means at least 6 minutes since the last through train.  As a result we're packed out. Get stopped at West Ham eastbound homes and then stick to stick (Home signals and from signal to signal - 'stick' is the euphemism we use on LU for signals) until we come to a final stand in Upton Park platform. As we left Plaistow I could see a whole queue of trains in front of me so I expect a slow run. When we stopped at Upton Park the foreman told me there was a signal failure at Barking and they couldn't use the bay so everything was running into the eastbound main.  So I gets out of the cab and am standing on the platform for some fresh air. All is quiet except for the pumps chuntering away on the train which stopped after a minute or so. I looks back along the platform and see the guard sitting on his doorstep having a quiet smoke (you could then). After about 5 minutes of this idyll with people looking out of the doors to see the problem a geezer half the size of a mountain (probably a docker) leans out of the second car and bawls at me like a foghorn "wassa marrer mate, 'as the effing 'orse run aht 'o breff ?" (Some things don't change, though now of course we have the benefit of the public address system.)

Now years ago the house magazine was called T.O.T. and there were a couple of amusing items printed in that. They both took place at Charing Cross (now Embankment) and concerned passengers. In those days trains used to reverse e/w on Sundays at that point and one such train ran in and the station staff went along hollering "all change". Well then, as now, you had your dim riders on board and despite the exhortations of the platform staff a man stuck his head out of the car and asked "Aldgate East?" The stationman came right back with "Aldgate East?......Nah, ALL GIT AHT"

Also at the same station a little Jewish gentleman wearing one of the old fashioned hearing aids the size of a transistor radio got off of a westbound and shuffled along the platform and accosted the porter (yerse, they was porters then) and said "vich vay to Golders Green" The porter told him "Down the escalator" the gentleman said "vot?" The porter tried again "Go down the escalator" ...."vot?" The porter went up a notch "ESCALATOR, ESCALATOR!!"  Silence and a perplexed look. "Esk yer later?.. Vy?... I vants to know now"

When I came on the job I was a station guard at Northfields District (and I lived in Dagenham) and my first driver was a nice quietly spoken guy named xxxx (name deleted, to protect the innocent!) who lived at Fulham and left the job to open a chip shop I think. He once told me that he got into a bit of bother answering a passengers query. Apparently the incident took place when he was a guard himself and at Hammersmith eastbound. Just as he was closing the train doors and largish woman in a fur coat came up and said "I say my man what is the quickest way to county hall? (the old LCC headquarters). Xxxx, not liking being addressed as "my man" told her "on the back of a fire engine missus" rang the starting bell and left. He was taken off the train on the way back at Earls Court west and reprimanded for "disrespect to a passenger"

Oh,  Happy Days !!!'

No sooner have I published these than another set of stories arrive in my Inbox!

Freight and Coal Workings on the District

This time it's to do with old coal and freight workings on the District line.  My own books tell me that 'on 4th June 1971 the last steam hauled train loaded with waste materials left Lillie Bridge depot at 00:15 and trundled to Neasden. It was hauled by ex-GWR pannier tank engine purchased by LT in 1961 and numbered L90.' (Quote taken from 'The Story of London's Underground' by John R. Day and John Reed)

But these are the tales from Q8.....

To help you visualise the description around the Turnham Green/Gunnersbury area the following diagram (which is 'clickable') might be of some help. (Diagram courtesy of 'Harsig')

'I bet you did not know that coal and goods trains used to run in between District trains? So sit back and I'll try to describe the procedure.

As you leave Gunnersbury eastbound and cross over the junction you traverse round the bend until you come to the overbridge by Chiswick Park station. At that point there used to be a double track junction to the third leg of the "triangle" with the North London. This leg (on your left looking east) used to connect to South Acton/Willesden Junction and many years ago was electrified on the LT system for the old LNWR outer circle from Earls Court.

But I digress. Now coal trains from the north used to come round that leg bound for West Kensington goods. I'll come to that shortly. After coming round the leg onto the eastbound DR they'd pass under the overbridge and immediately after so doing would take a track that went straight ahead beside the westbound district. This track ran (non electrified) straight on until the two underbridges beneath the westbound District/Picc embankment. Then using the left hand arch (the right one was not used) they connected with the eastbound Picc. They then traversed the eastbound Picc until immediately after Turnham Green eastbound fast platform and cross left onto the "coal siding" which was situated between the eastbound Picc and the eastbound district where the wide gap between the tracks are now. This accounts for why the eastbound DR from Turnham Green kinks to the left a bit after leaving the platform.

The "coalers" (usually steam hauled by a full sized engine but sometime double headed by tanks) would go along the siding until immediately prior to Stamford Brook station and cross onto the eastbound District. Incidentally you may wonder why they did not use the eastbound District immediately after Chiswick Park overbridge. Well I believe that many years before the war they did but apparently there was some sort of contretemps with a coaler getting stuck in the tunnel there. Anyway the coal train would the pass through Stamford Brook station and trundle along the eastbound District to Ravenscourt Park and there be required to stop. If there was a District train preceding it was not allowed to go down the bank until the DR train had left Hammersmith on account that the wagons on the train were often unbraked. (By-the-by I was told the there were yellow distant signals for the steamers provided between Turnham Green and West Ken but I can't recall seeing any.)

The "Blackmans Express" as they were so called then, no racism intended or meant, then went cautiously down the bank through the covered way and Hammersmith and Barons Court stations until just west of West Kensington and stopped once more. Now at this point there was a junction to the right above the where the Picc goes "down the pipe". After crossing over the westbound District they went under the overbridge (still visible I believe) and into the goods depot behind West Kensington westbound platform and did whatever. Going west was simple compared. They would come out of the West Ken yard and along the WB District all the way to the aforementioned junction at Chiswick Park overbridge. All the track was in situ in 1966 but unused. As an adjunct to that there were two sidings between Barons Court and West Kensington. The eastbound (electrified) one was between the two IMR rooms on the left of the eastbound district. If West Ken yard could not accept the coaler they would stick him in there until they could. The westbound siding came straight out of the yard and ran parallel to the westbound until joining it just before Barons Court station. The eastbound siding was also used to get a dud District train out of the way if needed.

That deals with the coal at the west end of the line.

Now we'll come to goods at the east end. In the days before 1960 the District line controller "lost" you as you left Bow Road as then you came under the LMS controller at Fenchurch Street. As you reached the top of Bow Bank there was a double junction from the right with the LTS (C2C) which enabled their local trains to run east (down) via the DR road. Just before the girder bridge over the now DLR there was a signal right up hard against the bridge girders. If he had a goods coming up from Bow you would be stopped there and watch the performance.

Now some of those goods train were very heavy and required two engines and one could apparently hear them long before they were in sight. They would hove into view under the overbridge down below and slog up the left hand curve of the fairly steep bank where the flats are now to Bromley-By-bow station which joined the District where the IMR is now. Now there was a lot of fun on that bank. If the goods were single headed or not going fast enough when he started the climb he would stall before getting to the top. The procedure then was to roll gently back down for a distance and have another go. In the end they would succeed. While all this was going on you were sitting in the cab watching the entertainment. I was once told by an old driver that on one occasion the District driver fell asleep and was there for a while after the signal cleared and had to be woken up by the driver of a westbound train.

At another time the goods was making repeated attempts to get up the bank and stalling each time. After about the 4th or 5th attempt someone knocked on the centre car/cab door. When he opened it a man in the car said "do us a favour mate, wake us up when it's time to go to work tommerer" Anyhow once the goods was up the bank he'd go through Bromley Station and pass over the girder bridge over the canal. Then he'd come to the double junction with the LTS and cross over to there and come to a second double junction to the right which curved round to where the post office building is now. Then he'd proceed merrily on his way to the docks. I must stress that apart from the disused tracks I never saw any of these shenanigans but had them described to me in detail by the old drivers while on meal relief.

By-the-way in those days the track east of bow road was owned by the main line and their trains always got precedence. There was a mixture of Semaphore and colour light signals and a plethora of connections between the fast and slow lines. Another thing was that every station had a signal box and woe betide you if the oil tail lamp at the rear of the train was not alight. If it wasn't, the station starting signal would not clear until it was lit. You'd be standing there like a spare at a wedding until you realised why you were being held.

Didn't they have fun!!'

On the topic of the old LTSR (London, Tilbury & Southend Railway) connections with the District, there's a great book available on the topic entitled 'Fenchurch Street to Barking' by J.E. Connor. It's extensively illustrated with both photographs and maps and illustrates many of the details described above.


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